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Helping to See What is No Longer There

Wide-Area Visualization Environment & Fort Ross—California State Parks

Imagine if technology like the Wide-Area Visualization Environment/ WAVE Lab (a 20-screen, 4K, 3-D, half-pipe-shaped monitor installed in 2016 at the University of California Merced) was accessible in the field. While the ability to freeze reality and manipulate high-resolution images in remote settings is but a dream, the capacity to see details that are missing to the naked eye is within our reach.

In conjunction with California State Parks, UC Merced Professor Nicola Lercari is using his expertise in technology to bring augmented reality to the state’s living outdoor interpretative and educational experiences.

“Augmented reality is the next big technology, especially for consumers,” Lercari says. “Especially in parks and museums, it really adds a layer of understanding and interpretation that can provide context to the visit and the experience. Going beyond the audio guide and video guide in the visitor center, you have a powerful device with all the information in your hand, and you walk around and learn by doing and by exploring the parks.

“It’s a transformational thing.”

Lercari began working with California State Parks a few years ago, when he used drones to help virtually map and recreate Bodie State Historic Park, a gold-mining ghost town in danger of being lost to history. Lercari uses the WAVE to display the 3-D visualizations of Bodie and its structures that he and his team created.

Now, Lercari has teamed up with California State Parks to begin the implementation of augmented reality at Fort Ross. The technology will allow visitors to use their smartphones as a lenses into the past — from visualizing the machinery used at Fort Ross to help move cargo off boats in the cove to learning about the Kashia Pomo and Coastal Miwok indigenous communities and their interaction with Russian colonists and Alaska Natives in the 1800s.

“The cool thing is you can see a lost historic structure projected onto today’s landscape holographically,” says Jad Aboulhosn, a senior who handled much of the programming for the Bodie and Fort Ross projects. “We are enhancing the experience. We are not taking you away, we are not distracting you. We are actually giving you something that you could not have done before.”

Lercari says consultation with local tribes helps facilitate the stories that are important to the region and decipher how augmented reality can best reflect them.

“This allows the information to be out in the landscape where it belongs,” Lercari says. “It really allows people who are not scholars or experts in a certain domain or site to envision and immerse themselves in this type of appreciation for cultures and the past.”

Much of this information, Director of Cyberinfrastructure and Research Computing Jeff Weekley says, is big data, which necessitates a move from observational science to the use of technology. Weekley, who assembled the WAVE at UC Merced, says advancements in big data are fueling the future of research in heritage and cultures.

“It’s not about the technology, it’s really about the interdisciplinary work that goes into developing, capturing and displaying the content that is of interest to a humanist,” Weekley says. “The technology is really just a means to an end to develop these interdisciplinary, collaborative teams, which is the future.”

Learn More About the Wide-Area Visualization Environment (WAVE) Lab

The Wide Area Visualization Environment (WAVE) Lab, a 166 Megapixel 3D visualization cluster running common 3D visualization and immersive media platforms (CalVR, Unity 3D game engine, Paraview) for small-ground research support in Cyberarcheology, Global Arts, Chemistry, Physics and Biology, as well as engineering and other disciplines.

We also support a smaller, but fully capable LibraryCAVE for use in teaching and learning. The LibraryCAVE is perfect for critical viewing of classroom and laboratory projects. The LibraryCAVE can be used for 2D or 3D viewing for groups of up to 15 people.

Download an information brochure

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Watch a short video on the UC Merced WAVE.